Mubarak: Soldier's release not a priority in Gaza truce talks

The fate of an Israeli soldier captured in 2006 should not be linked to Cairo-mediated talks on a long-term truce with Hamas in Gaza, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

“Egypt will not change its position on the truce, the matter of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is a separate issue which can in no way be linked to the truce negotiations,” the state-owned Al-Ahram daily quoted Mubarak as saying.

Israel has linked a truce agreement to the release of Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since he was seized in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants, including Hamas, in June 2006.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that Shalit’s release took priority over any other consideration in the negotiations for a lasting ceasefire.

Hamas on Monday insisted it would not discuss releasing Shalit as part of the truce negotiations, accusing Israel of “blackmail” for raising the issue of the captured soldier when an agreement had almost been reached.

“We blame Israel for preventing the implementation of the truce ... and we reject blackmail attempts by Israel,” said Gaza-based Hamas spokesperson Taher al-Nunu.

Nunu said a Hamas delegation in Egypt on Sunday reached “a clear agreement on the truce” but that Israel “raised the question of Gilad Shalit at the last minute in a bid to include it in the accord”.

Hamas insists it will only release Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Israel will inform Egypt of its response to the truce proposal on Wednesday, a Hamas official said on Monday.—AFP

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